I really hope this is apocryphal.
April 6, 2003 12:05 PM   Subscribe

So, what does one have do to trigger a security alert? A suburban Philadelphia lady finds her credit card has been fraudulently charged for a flight to Philadelphia, with a passenger name that sounds Middle Eastern, during the time that President Bush and DHS Secretary Tom Ridge would be in the city. Worried, she tries to report this to various police and security officials. This is her story.
posted by eriko (19 comments total)
Notes. Yes, Ms. Gould probably overreacted. Yes, Mr. Nasir was almost certainly not a terrorist about to make an attack. However, if "Middle Eastern, using stolen credit card, flying to city where President is" doesn't set off at least a "Hmm" in the security apparatus, what does?
posted by eriko at 12:13 PM on April 6, 2003

she should have told the authorities that the man in question had bought a pair of fingernail clippers.
posted by mcsweetie at 12:37 PM on April 6, 2003

Times sure are tough for terrorists if they can't even afford their own plane tickets.

Honestly, authorities let this slide and arrest college students because of a "All your base" prank. What's up with that?
posted by bobo123 at 12:43 PM on April 6, 2003

It is odd that in this age of profiling, no red flags went up. I seriously doubt any foul play beyond the fraud, but why again where all these new laws guaranteeing national security put on the books? Why does Tom Ridge have a new job?

I'm surprised the credit card's bank didn't do something, since they probably paid for that flight.
posted by LouReedsSon at 12:57 PM on April 6, 2003

a.) obviously, it was just some small-time fraud ... arabs can be petty-criminals too, they're not all out for world domination. jeez.

b.) this story doesn't wash. there must be more to it. flags would have been raised. (aside from the fact that nothing actually happened.)

c.) i'm glad the author of the piece took the usual apocryphal potshot that little old ladies get screened more often than young arab men. what a load of woe-is-the-white-man hogwash.
posted by donkeyschlong at 1:20 PM on April 6, 2003

Oh, of course, I understand it now. A real terrorist would not do anything suspicious because he wouldn't want to attract attention before completing his mission!

Yes, without some corroboration this appears to be Yet One More Anecdote about TSA and Homeland Security Department and pretty much everybody else dropping the ball. How many more such stories do we have to hear before we wonder if maybe something isn't rotten in the State of the Union?

Americans get annoyed with incompetance.
posted by ilsa at 3:10 PM on April 6, 2003

If I have to take off my shoes to get through security at an airport, if my friend has to have her shirt lifted in front of the entire world to hop on a plane, if my husband has to go through everything in my purse to make sure I didn't miss nail clippers or some other WMD, if it takes everything short of the appropriate ACT OF GOD paperwork to get into the county courthouse for jury duty, if we are at High Alert, why doesn't this make people pay attention? Even someone on a lower level who can't affect great change should have heard some sort of internal alarm when they got wind of this. It set off alarms for me and you can't even see paranoid from where I stand.

donkeyschlong: I've flown often since Then, and in my own experience this is absolutely true. I flew on three different flights where profiling would have flagged a few people, and it was older couples and a couple of businessman types that were pulled out for 'additional screening'. slight rant: if they have a system to flag for more screening, can't they also flag that you've been screened once already? Virtually everyone I've seen be pulled out has said 'this is the nth time today I've done this." Why is that exactly?
posted by verso at 3:25 PM on April 6, 2003

Just about every additional screening I've seen (now, it's been a few months since I've flown I admit) has been a simple pull the next person in line when you finish with the person you're working on. Trivial to avoid, and about as usefull as asking all terrorists to report to screening so we can make sure they've hidden their weapons adequately. Maybe it's changed since I last flew (I'll find out later this month), but I'd be suprised if it's any more effective.
posted by piper28 at 4:15 PM on April 6, 2003

What worries me is the bit about "banker's hours". If these people are serious about security, they should be reachable around the clock--just as my local police, and the police of any town I can think of, are.
posted by rosvicl at 6:20 PM on April 6, 2003

Americans get annoyed with incompetance.
posted by sgt.serenity at 6:51 PM on April 6, 2003

you do realize most of the profiling occurs before you ever get on the plane, don't you? the stuff they do during boarding is just for show -- for the benefit of all the tools who think terrorism is how you look, versus a pattern of behavior, which is what it actually is. and surprise, surprise -- it's been working. get over it.

so this woman's story is that a man with an arab surname got past the ticket counter with someone else's card by claiming it was his mother's? who i might add has a jewish surname? that's pretty rich. the airline, the credit card company and the tsa all simultaneously lapsed? i don't buy it.
posted by donkeyschlong at 7:00 PM on April 6, 2003

Well, donkeyschlong, you haven't spent much time dealing with airlines, credit cards and the TSA if you don't think they can all drop the ball. I average 60 flights a year (which makes me a piker compared to many.) I've seen screwups from the ridiculous to the sublime, from all three -- the best was when I saw someone, tickets to Glasgow in hand, being told that the airline didn't have a flight to Glasgow that day. (Turns out, the GA had typed "GLW", not "GLA", as the destination, GLW is a tiny little airport in Glasgow, KY. GLA is Glasgow, UK. Worse yet, his first lookup when he realized one won't find Scotch Whisky in Kentucky was for "Glasgow International Airport", which gave him GGW. GGW, however, is Glasgow, MT. If you find yourself in a similar situation, you want GLA, or if you aren't in the US, EGPF. I digress.

This doesn't read like the standard FOAF story. The sources are all named, US Air has a very large presence at PHL (which they want to get out of, since they've got a bigger hub at PIT, and if AA quits STL, expect to see US show up. Ick.) and having watched our countries amazing attempts at security, I can certainly believe the runaround, or the fact that the TSA didn't pick up on the oddballs.

The one thing I do find not credible on first glance was Mr. Nasir easily getting the boarding pass. When I bought a e-ticker for my sister, (on AA, btw) I had to do it by phone, not only, and I had to jump through a couple of minor hoops to have them let her pick them up at the counter. Normally, if I buy a flight for someone else, they mail the tickets to me at my registered address, then I have to send them on to whomever I'm buying them for -- but sis needed to fly faster than that.

However, I don't know US Air's policies, and I know you can often sweetalk a GA into breaking a rule. Nowadays, getting them to waive anything with a fee attached is just about possible (the jargon is "no waivers/no favors") but most frequent flyers know what rules can be pushed, how far, and by who.
posted by eriko at 8:09 PM on April 6, 2003

I average around 60-70 flights a year as well. What I've learned thus far:

1) The "profiles" are based on an allegedly sophisticated algorithm based on a number of variables including credit card, flight history, when the ticket was booked, connecting cities on the itinerary, etc...

2) Old ladies and kids in wheelchairs are getting searched, according to one TSA employee, to keep the "randomness" in the search patterns. I don't know how this works

3) Doc Martens will not set off the detectors, even though they look at me nervously when I tell them so.

4) Even the TSA thinks it's asinine now that you have to remove the laptop from the bag for X-ray. Does this mean that they couldn't see through the bag before the 11th?

5) Security policies ARE different not only between airlines, but between airports and airlines as well. You'd be surprised, but security is absolutely draconian in Lake Charles, Louisiana. It's a one-strip, one-airline field with no jetways.

If I find anything on my way to NJ tomorrow I'll let you know.
posted by TeamBilly at 8:53 PM on April 6, 2003

3) Doc Martens will not set off the detectors, even though they look at me nervously when I tell them so.

Usually it's high-end men's dress shoes. They have 2 inch steel shanks in the heels for support, sets off the metal detectors like a mofo.

Also: Many golf courses use a liquid potassium fertilizer that will cause you clubs/bag/shoes/etc to set off explosive detection swabs.

I fly about every six weeks, before and since 9/11, and I find that security is not too invasive. I'm willing to go through an extra few minutes of hassle if it helps ensure that no more planes go crashing into buildings.

At the same time, there have actually been some benefits! One, the concourses are non-ticket-holder-free, which means more room at the bars and restaurants, less noise, less traffic. One can find an electric outlet when you need one. The net connections at the bars are often open.

Second, baggage claim moves like friggin gangbusters compared to before. I used to pack light as I could and drag it on the plane, but now I pack so I can dress well and have some options. It's nice, believe me.

Lastly, airport people seem to... I dunno, nicer. Apologetic. More accomodating. This was not always the case.

just my .02; your mileage may vary.
posted by UncleFes at 10:18 PM on April 6, 2003

Does it bother anyone that the police agencies had what appeared to be a fantastic opportunity to catch a thief, but they all decided to pass?

Writing speeding tickets and seizing pot from teenagers is more important that punishing property crime?
posted by trharlan at 8:43 AM on April 7, 2003

It certainly paints the FBI's willingness to spend significant resources in tracking down head shops in a new light...
posted by nomisxid at 9:26 AM on April 7, 2003

Lastly, airport people seem to... I dunno, nicer. Apologetic. More accomodating. This was not always the case.

ditto. i've traveled a fair amount since 'the change,' and my experience has been that people are mostly friendlier than they used to be, more pleasant and patient. maybe it's because no one wants to 'set anyone off,' so to speak, but it's nice all the same.
posted by donkeyschlong at 9:47 AM on April 7, 2003

The first conclusion I came to is that the _Agencies_ took notice and then took action against Mr. Nasir. But because he was secretly arrested and is now being secretly held no one immediately involved can talk about it. And those not involved are getting the equivelent of no comment.

Sepculation like this being one of the hallmarks of a society with a secret police.
posted by Mitheral at 11:24 AM on April 7, 2003

Lastly, airport people seem to... I dunno, nicer. Apologetic. More accomodating. This was not always the case.

True. I think it's because there is simply less passenger load and less strain on the employees. Plus, I have noticed air travelers seem to be more polite than they used to. From about late '96 through late '97 I was flying sometimes three, four days a week (racked up a LOT of miles) but the boom was on and every seat was sold, every flight was late, every passenger cranky.

It's sad, but I do believe that one of the consequences of 9/11 was a vastly improved air travel system, vis a vis passenger processing.
posted by TeamBilly at 8:21 AM on April 8, 2003

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